The Ashtray is a utensil for the use of tobacco in the car and over the years it is undergoing a transition. An accessory before the Second World War and then integrated into the dashboard and available to order as Smoking package nowadays.
1 – Tobacco consumption: Some consider smoking an essential part of driving and will consequently order a Smoking package for the vehicle, something most passenger car and commercial vehicle manufacturers offer. Instead of an ashtray, today’s standard equipment includes a practical, additional stowage compartment.
2 – Social change: In the 1920s and 1930s smoking was considered modern and in many cases, consuming tobacco was almost de rigueur. What’s more, back in the day it was occasionally even considered impolite not to provide an opportunity to consume tobacco. This has changed in meantime: in several European countries, such as France, Italy and Austria – with Belgium to follow in 2021 – smoking has even been prohibited whenever children are on board. The ashtray, no longer part of the standard equipment in new Mercedes-Benz vehicles, is a symbol of this change.
3 – Smoking on the go: The initial years of the car were dominated by open-top bodies and ash was simply flicked outside the vehicle. Then, from around 1910, when, for example, city coupé and Landaulet body variants were introduced, chauffeurs were still exposed to the elements, but an ashtray for smoking in the passenger compartment made sense now. From the second half of the 1920s, contemporary photographs in Mercedes-Benz Pullman Saloons also show ashtrays in the rear.
4 – Add-on: The first ashtrays had not yet been integrated into the surfaces in the vehicle interior, they were installed on them. Accessories retailers also offered various variants of retrofit solutions – even sophisticated glass receptacles. The historic exhibit from the “33 Extras” series at the Mercedes-Benz Museum is such an accessory that is installed in the suitable position.
5 – Integrated: Ever since the beginning of the 1930s, stylists (i.e. what designers were called at what was Daimler-Benz AG at the time) had been integrating ashtrays as a permanent feature of the vehicle interior in Mercedes-Benz vehicles, also to keep driver distractions to a minimum by making their use as easy as possible. As the years went by, the accessory evolved: initially, the ashtray may have been integrated into the dashboard, but it remained readily apparent. Ashtrays concealed behind a flap didn’t become established until the 1950s. Usually the receptacle is removable to facilitate emptying.
6 – Glowing: Today’s “Smoking package” equipment specification normally includes an electric lighter and an ashtray. The lighter is pressed into the power socket, contact is established and a few moments later the button snaps back towards the front – the lighter is hot and glowing in a flame red. A similarly operating lighter has been integrated into the Museum’s exhibit: in this case, a switch closes the power circuit for the round lighter.
7 – Power connection for charging: The socket of contemporary electric lighters is also used in non-smokers’ cars – today more intensively than ever before, as this interface to the vehicle’s power connection makes it possible to charge a host of mobile devices with the corresponding adapter.
Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic